19. Stegosaurus Skeleton Restored, 1891


The golden year of 1877, which provided the first evidence of sauropods, also saw the discovery of the first stegosaur, in the very same upper Jurassic beds. Marsh announced the new genus in 1877, and in 1878 he discovered a nearly complete specimen, which he named Stegosaurus ungulatus. In ensuing years Marsh recovered more than twenty different specimens, which he grouped into a small number of species. However, he was seemingly reluctant to attempt a restoration, perhaps because he was uncertain as to how the plates and spikes should be placed. But in 1886 Marsh recovered the jewel of all stegosaur fossils, an articulated skeleton of Stegosaurus stenops, with the skull, vertebrae, limbs, and dermal armor in almost the position they were in when the animal died (for more on this specimen, see item 37). Marsh finally published the restoration as a line engraving in 1891; we see it here. He said the restoration was based on the type specimen of S.ungulatus, with the parts, especially the armor, positioned in accordance with the S. stenops specimen.

This is an impressive restoration; it would not be out of place in a modern textbook, and yet it was done over one hundred years ago. Moreover, it shows a very unusual animal, as Marsh himself admitted: "The series of vertical plates which extended above the neck, along the back, and over two-thirds of the tail, is a most remarkable feature, which could not have been anticipated, and would hardly have been credited had not the plates themselves been found in position."


Marsh, Othniel C. "Restoration of Stegosaurus," in: American Journal of Science, series 3, vol. 42 (1891), pp. 179-181. This work was on display in the original exhibition as item 19.

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